Give up the Golden Rule

March 4th, 2015

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, treat others the way you want to be treated. Everyone knows the Golden Rule.

With regrets to Jesus and Rabbi Hillel and others who formulated versions of this well-loved principle, there’s just one problem with it. It isn’t always golden. At least when it comes to interpersonal communications. That’s why my Lenten suggestion this week is to give up the Golden Rule and replace it with the Platinum Rule.

The Golden Rule assumes that the way I want to be treated, at the level of interpersonal communications, is how others want to be treated. And that my preferences apply to all people.

That’s where the Golden Rule gets it wrong. And why applying it wholesale gets leaders and churches into trouble.

Eternally stymied

Miss DeLynda, the former lay leader of a once vibrant congregation, felt eternally stymied by her congregation, including the pastor. Passionate, decisive and feisty, Miss DeLynda had been sounding the alarm for years: We need to make some new decisions here, people. And fast! Otherwise, we’re going to die. She practiced the Golden Rule, right up until the time they slowly froze her out of the church! She delivered tough information the same way she liked to receive it: quickly and directly. Convinced that none of them cared about the church anyway, she left in anger and frustration. So much for the Golden Rule.

Who have you quit talking to or listening to in ministry? How is your church life suffering as a result?

In the rest of this article, I’m going to share with you how to tell if the Golden Rule isn’t working. Then I’ll share when and how to apply the Platinum Rule instead.

The more direct Miss DeLynda got, the more indirect the pastor and congregation became. The more she pushed, they more they resisted. The more she looked them in the eye, the more they looked away. They felt bullied and discounted. She felt shut out and ignored. They had meetings about how to deal with her domineering behavior. She took anti-depressants and ate too much to deal with her frustration. They all practiced the Golden Rule in communicating with each other. But it fell far short of what they needed.

Is the Golden Rule “golden” in your congregation?

Here are four signs the Golden Rule may no longer be working in your congregation:

1. You assign bad motives to the people you are avoiding. Miss DeLynda was pretty convinced that no one, not even her pastor, truly cared about the church. On the other hand, they felt she was just stirring the pot and creating trouble.

2. You start talking about them, instead of to them. These triangulated conversations take place in the parking lot, bathrooms, before or after meetings and with people that aren’t even involved.

3. You no longer listen to what the other party is saying. You are too busy taking offense to how they say it.

4. You use theological language to justify your frustrations. “Those people are standing in the way of the movement of the Holy Spirit.” “Hasn’t she ever heard ‘Be still and know that I am God?’” Once we make people enemies of God, all possibility for ministry with each other is over.

Platinum Rule

If any of these four signs are in place in your church, it’s time to implement the Platinum Rule.

What’s the difference? If the Golden Rule counsels us to treat others the way we want to be treated, the Platinum Rule takes it up a notch: Treat others the way they want to be treated. It acknowledges that we each have different motivators, stressors, goals, fears and priorities.

The good news is that this is fairly easy information to ferret out. Begin to notice how they are communicating with you, and do likewise. Let’s start with two simple communication dynamics.

Direct or indirect communication

Be direct with Miss DeLynda. No need for lots of frills or apologies. She probably doesn’t even need a lot of chitchat or visiting first. Just say it straight. And don’t worry, you aren’t going to offend her by communicating this way. Instead, she’ll appreciate it.

Build up to your message with this pastor and congregation. Spend some time visiting and connecting with them first. Let them know you care about them, especially if the topic at hand is challenging or discouraging. They’ll appreciate knowing your friendship extends beyond the given circumstances.

Fast-paced or slower-paced

Miss DeLynda has a pretty fast pace. Decisive and action-oriented, she likes to talk and move quickly. She’s okay with not having a new plan all worked out first. She’d rather begin than have to wait until every detail is decided. Give her the big picture then let her loose and she’ll make stuff happen, building momentum for the rest of the congregation.

The pastor and congregation have a slower pace. They like to reflect before giving their opinions or making a decision. Being insistent doesn’t give them the time and space they need to weigh pros and cons, consider the options, and adjust to the change ahead of them. Give them time to process before asking for a decision.

How to implement the Platinum Rule

Ready? Try these four tips for implementing the Platinum Rule:

1. Ascribe good motives to each individual. Understand they just have a different way of doing things.

2. Using the tips above, speak directly to each other. Triangulation only hurts people, including you.

3. Set aside your personal communication preferences. Instead, focus on what they are actually saying. As you get more comfortable with the Platinum Rule, gently point out how your preferences and theirs vary, without making either of you wrong or right.

4. Assume the Spirit is equally alive and well in each of you, and that you are each friends of Jesus. Look for the contributions you each make to the Church and Kingdom of God.

If you are having trouble with this, my workshop The Platinum Rule for Thriving Congregations makes a noticeable difference!

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at

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